Miami's Bitcoin Convention Was Weirder and More Wonderful Than I Imagined
A look at Dade County's recent crypto-currency bacchanal.
Due to a series of insane circumstances that I still can't wrap my angry brain around, reporter Lauren Sivan and I recently nuked a planned Nicaragua trip, yet were able to turn a Managua melon into a Miami margarita via press passes to the Mana Wynwood Convention Center's Bitcoin 2021 conference.
General tickets were going for around $1,500, while $20,0000 "whale passes" gave big spenders an extra day to rub elbows with e-commerce elites. Speakers included Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the Winklevoss Twins, skateboarder Tony Hawk (I don't know why, either) and the about-to-pummel-Logan-Paul Floyd Mayweather. Oh and El Salvador president, Nayib Bukele, who announced his country would become the world's first to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.
Miami as a location made sense over New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles venues: Dade County is currently Bitcoin-bonkers. FTX just bought naming rights to the Heat's arena while mayor, Francis Suarez, recently announced the city would accept tax payments in cryptocurrency.
"Unless the government decides to regulate it to death, we're gonna see more, not less, Bitcoin in our everyday lives," Sivan explained. "There's only 21 million and there's no central bank or government in control. The more I learn, the more I realize it's a better system than what we have."
We roamed the convention, routinely taken aback by such sitings as Silk Road founder, Ross Ulbricht, who made his first public comments following his life sentence and recorded from a federal penitentiary, and we sampled Playboy's latest whiskey venture and waited, and waited, and waited for Mayweather to finally arrive. Alas, we bolted before his super-late entrance, but I did manage to get an exclusive one-on-one with his mic.
"I'm impressed with the way Miami is seizing this opportunity to attract great talent to their city," noted Kelley Weaver, host of the insider-adored podcast Crypto Token Talk. "I reconnected with multiple crypto entrepreneurs who recently moved from New York and San Francisco to Miami."
Between Bitcoin card games marketed to kids, crypto-curious Furries, and Sumo wrestlers asking for volunteers willing to be body-slammed, the entire enterprise was both a feast for the eyes and my portfolio! (Note to self: Get a financial portfolio.) Sasco Digital Assets content creator, Keren Margolis put it succinctly: "I think what we saw at the conference looked a bit chaotic and nutty from the outside, but it was really the fringe moving further into the mainstream and that is the best news for its continued adoption, value, and success."
More on Miami
Domestic travel surged to a COVID-era high over Memorial Day weekend as the US reported the fewest new cases in more than a year. The Transportation Safety Administration reported around 1.9 million cabin-feverish souls flying the skittish skies over this break.
We stayed at The Betsy Hotel's nine galleries, which has become the cultural destinations within Miami Beach. Even their egg-shaped skybridge (connecting the L. Murray Dixon's-designed edifice with a Henry Hohauser-built Collins Avenue property) remains an acclaimed piece of public art.
Credit: Lauren Sivan
Their sculptural Poetry Rail honors those who have flowed (Langston Hughes and Muhammad Ali to name a few) on all things Florida, while an athenaeum-amount of authored works are available to browse, borrow or burgle. All of it is a testament to owner Jonathan Plutzik's lineage: His late father was a two-time Yale Poetry Award winner and 1960 Pulitzer finalist. Bonus: Hyam Plutzik's prose, in what MUST be a career highlight, have been re-purposed within the subject headers of this very article.
"This area is full of young people as well as people who think they're fifteen years younger than they are," mused Jonathan on the kind of carefree clientele that helped his industry weather the COVID storm. "I will say the speed with which we rebounded surprised even me."
The former Credit Suisse Vice Chairman and founding board member of Planet Word, D.C.'s sanctuary to all things literary, allowed us to crash at his hotel's hallowed Writer's Room, a program that's welcomed more than 800 artists in residence (clearly Plutzik didn't read my clips prior to the offer).
"We had a lot of people come in the middle of the pandemic," said Jonathan of his palace's partial re-opening following an endless shutdown. "I was nervous, but greater Miami is an open-air environment and our building is about as "open-air' as you can get.
Comedy: "Are words clothes or the putting off of clothes?"
"I moved to Miami for four months because of the pandemic," recalled comedian, Andrew Schulz, (full disclosure: he's also my far-more-successful cousin). "I couldn't do stand up in New York and couldn't eat at restaurants without freezing my ass off."
For roughly four months the born-and-raised Manhattanite, along with five members of his production team, plied their YouTube trade in the county of Dade, without missing a beat or laugh.
"The crowds here are unique because the show is a party," adds the Netflix alum. "That annoys some comics, but audiences come to enjoy life rather than escape it."
Brittany Brave helms a monthly revue at the too-hip-for-me shopping Mecca that is Showfields. An accomplishment the comic acquired after similarly moving from a boarded-up Big Apple back to her still-shining hometown.
"It's not unusual to tell jokes while competing with karaoke, reggaeton, screaming, fighting, partying and twerking," explained Brit of her usual venues. "If you can wrangle that energy, it's a killer show. Not sure how much of that is because of cocaine, but I'll take it."
Brave maintains Miami's standup situation benefited from ignoring the caution that caused other comedy capitals to close.
"Everything was open," noted Brit, "people transplanted from other markets and all of a sudden the city had a scene it didn't have before."
The more solvent Schulz noted another difference between the Empire and Sunshine State vibes…
"I got called a murderer for walking my dog without a mask in Manhattan," recalled Andrew. "Hate to say this, but some New Yorkers were just terrified, and it was nice to not be around that crippling fear for a few months."
Food and drink: "Hear and hunger, look and thirst, like fools."
My alone time, once Lauren hit sleepy time, began and ended at one of the greatest dives in the history of hooch.
The 88-year-old (or 95-year-old, depending on who you talk to), 14th street Mecca that is Mac's Club Deuce is what I looked forward to most. It remains one of the better pubs you'll ever puke at (if you're able to memorize their bathroom door code). The oldest bar in Miami (I really like writing about elderly ale houses) has changed little since its 1933 inception, save for the pink neon lights a "Miami Vice" crew installed while filming there in the '80s and remain to this day. Oh and check out the touching reaction Deuce regulars displayed after worshiped-regular, Anthony Bourdain, passed in 2018.
The saloon's S-shaped bar, single pool table, perfect jukebox and aversion to credit cards remains intact. Did I mention you can still smoke inside?
"The people-watching here is second to none," summed up Sivan. "Girls in thongs enjoying giant cocktails, while waving down men, was wonderful. In a year where we've both been stuck, visiting this city just quenches a thirst."
Events: "To those who look out of the window at the night…"
Kmele Foster (FreeThink.com), Michael Moynihan (Vice.com) and Matt Welch (Reason.com) host The Fifth Column", a wildly popular, libertarian-themed podcast that just so happened to be doing a live taping at Just The Funny, in Coral Gables. Of course, Lauren and I weaseled our way into some free tickets because we're both broke AND buddies with the bastards.
Credit: Lauren Sivan
"Our biggest problem wasn't COVID — it was comedy," recalled Welch when asked of pandemic-related problems while searching for a venue. "One club refused to book us because we'd previously had Andrew Sullivan on our podcast. Prior to the pandemic, we had been starting to book live shows, then everything turned upside-down, but now it's clear there's a lot of energy out there for people wanting to escape house arrest."
Special guests for their two tapings included famed Florida-based columnist, Dave Barry, Reason magazine editor-at-large, Nick Gillespie and ME.
Epilogue: "Whatever is lost is gained forever…"
Hyam Plutzik's 's final chapter title for this piece couldn't be more apt: Our Central American loss became a win with regards to witnessing Miami's resurgence.
Happily for Sivan's alarming animal-husbandry-on-needlepoint hobby? The South Beach institution devoted to hornier learning that is The World Erotic Art Museum has apparently re-opened!
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